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The Isle of Bute Offers The Best Value Golf in Scotland

By: | Tue 31 Oct 2023

Scotland is home to many of the finest courses on the planet, but the widespread hyper-inflation of green fees has made accessing these legendary venues unobtainable to vast swathes of golfers who are instead turning towards those gems that offer tremendous value for money with a memorable experience to match.

Living in St Andrews, I am only too well aware of how tourist-oriented consumerism has distorted the market in the nation that brought the game to the world. It's an industry approach that undoubtedly looks great on balance sheets, but there is a bigger picture that is being ignored by those executives who merely serve as temporary custodians of our greatest layouts.

However, thankfully there are welcome antidotes to this money-spinning environment that are just waiting to be discovered.

You may not have considered the Isle of Bute as a possible destination for your next golf holiday, but here is an impassioned case as to why this jewel in the Firth of Clyde offers arguably the best value menu in the land.

And this comes as a personal recommendation. Despite now having spent the majority of my years away from the island, Bute is where I am originally from, it's where my family roots are embedded, and it's the place that I still above all consider to be home.

Bute Golf Club

(Image Credit: Kieran Clark)

Introducing You to The Isle of Bute

Perhaps the most accessible of Scotland's major islands, Bute is easily reached from Glasgow, with the ferry terminal at Wemyss Bay little more than 30 miles away from the big city. It's a regular crossing that takes approximately 35 minutes and illustrates why the place for generations was a regular break of choice for families of Glaswegians.

Indeed, when arriving in the main town of Rothesay, the wistful air of many a forgotten summer holiday reverberates around the Victorian architecture.

While its bustling heyday as the Clyde's Riviera is now a distant memory, the island has successfully repackaged itself to offer a wide range of outdoor pursuits - including golf. 

Cyclists will relish navigating around its comfortable span of 15 miles, while the designated West Island Way is one of Scotland's great walking routes that reveals both sides of the Highland Boundary Fault.

Others love exploring the island's expansive and sandy beaches, especially Ettrick, Scalpsie, St Ninian's and Kilchattan, the majority of which boast stunning views across towards the mountainous neighbouring Isle of Arran.

Historians will be fascinated by the medieval Rothesay Castle, which boasts a circular, moat-surrounded design that is unique in this country. The 12th-century St Blane's Chapel in the southern corner of the island possesses an atmosphere all of its own.

But for many visitors, it's the extraordinary Mount Stuart House that stands out as the highlight. Rebuilt in the late 19th century for the aristocratic 3rd Marquess of Bute (who was reportedly at one stage the world's richest person), it's a large country home created in a striking Gothic Revival style that is open to the public.

Inside you will witness remarkable architecture, lavish period interior design, and a particular attention to detail that has to be seen to be believed. Mount Stuart was the first home in Scotland to be lit by electricity and claims many other notable accolades that make it one of the most enthralling buildings you could ever hope to step into.

The Isle of Bute is varied, diverse and packed full of surprises. And that's before your attention turns towards the golf.

Rothesay Golf Club

Rothesay Golf Club

(Image Credit: Kieran Clark)

Bute's only 18-hole course that is laid out across Canada Hill above the town, Rothesay Golf Club has a strong case to be Scotland's most breathtakingly scenic. The legendary American Walter Hagen once played here and claimed that the vistas couldn't be beaten anywhere on the planet.

From its elevated position that circles around the hill, you can take in the sights of the Firth of Clyde, the Cowal Hills, Lochs Ridden and Striven, the Isle of Arran and the Ayrshire Hills. Seven Scottish counties are visible from Rothesay GC - and we haven't even mentioned the majesty of nearby Cumbrae, Loch Fad, Loch Ascog and the Kyles of Bute, in addition to Rothesay Bay itself.

This location is a feast for the eyes and we are yet to discuss the course that was created by Ben Sayers and James Braid, who played alongside Harry Vardon and reigning Open champion Arnaud Massy in a star-studded exhibition match to open the newly-extended design in 1908.

While it's a short course on the scorecard, it's extremely hilly, presenting elevation changes that make many holes play longer than you expect with strategy and intelligent club selection being a requirement to score well.

Rothesay is a place that you will never forget on a clear, sunny day, and it can be played for a minimum of £25 during weekdays.

Port Bannatyne Golf Club

Port Bannatyne Golf Club

(Image Credit: Isle of Bute by John Williams)

The coastal village of Port Bannatyne is a short journey from Rothesay on the road north towards the island's other ferry terminal at Rhubodach, which services those who have taken the scenic drive through Argyll.

Requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the Second World War, the Port is home to a unique golf course that spans 13-holes and straddles the hillside to offer stunning views across Kames Bay towards Loch Striven and the many peaks in the distance.

For a couple of teenage years, this was exclusively the only course I played on Bute and its setting remains prominent in my memory. From just £15 during the week, it represents yet another bargain for golfers.

Bute Golf Club

Bute Golf Club

(Image Credit: Kieran Clark)

I hold deep affection for both Rothesay and the Port, but it's the eponymous and magical Bute Golf Club that resides permanently in my heart. 

Located on the western side of the island, seemingly miles away from any semblance of civilisation, Bute GC (commonly referred to as Kingarth locally) is a nine-holer that runs adjacent to Stravanan Bay and gazes across the Sound of Bute towards Arran, which serves as the most incredible of backdrops.

The course opened back in 1888 - making it the oldest on Bute - and little has changed since then. One thing that has progressed, however, is that before 2009, the fairways were populated by sheep and cattle, with small fences protecting the greens. But those days are now in the past and the condition of the layout has improved immeasurably.

Several of my favourite holes in Scottish golf are packed within this little corner of Bute, including the second that features an approach shot played over a stone wall with Arran in the horizon, and the sensational par three that follows, which brings into play the rocky beach, a burn, and out-of-bounds. 

This is a rugged course that has blind shots, hillocks, small greens, and a lifetime's supply of sea air to keep you going. It's a dessert for the soul that is truly unforgettable and takes you back to a simpler, more authentic style of golf.

During a twilight evening, you can go round the loop as many times as you like for £10, with day tickets costing just £15. When the sun dips across the water, there is no finer setting and no more enviogaring experience in Scotland for that price.


Rothesay Golf Club

(Image Credit: Kieran Clark)

If you've been doing the sums, Rothesay, Port Bannatyne and Kingarth can be played for a combined £50. That is the price to experience three wonderful courses, to take in some of the most captivating views in the country, and to have an excuse to explore the many delights and secrets of the Isle of Bute.

Bute truly is beautiful. I love it - and I expect that you will too.

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